We were fortunate enough to be able to take the students from the LLM programme in Art, Business and Law to the V&A to hear the museum’s in-house solicitor, Anthony Misquitta, speak about the various legal issues faced by the institution on a daily basis. This covered things like copyright and digitisation, trade mark issues when branding the museum and design elements, which of course are a mainstay of the V&A’s collection.
We were also given an interesting introduction from Anaïs Aguerre about the V&A’s new project called ReACH. The project was launched last year, which marked the 150th anniversary of the V&A founder’s proposal to create an international network of reproductions of works of art, such as statues, monuments and architectural features. This proposal became the ‘Convention for Promoting Universally Reproductions of Works of Art for the Benefit of Museums of All Countries’, signed in 1867 by representatives of eleven European countries, including Great Britain. This was at a time of an increased ability to make faithful reproductions of well-known works from other countries, through processes like cast-making and photography. The V&A’s West Cast Court (where the above photo was taken) provides fine examples of many Victorian-era copies, meant to educate the masses who were unable to travel to see the originals.
ReACH (which stands for Reproduction of Art and Cultural Heritage) is a rejuvenation of this original vision and has set out to create a new network amongst institutions for the sharing of high-quality digital reproductions of well-known works of art. So far partners include the Louvre, the Smithsonian, the Hermitage and many more. As Aguerre writes in the introductory brochure, the project ‘explores how we can collectively re-think our approach to the reproduction, storage and sharing of works of art and cultural heritage in the twenty-first century’.
A fine goal. And one that inevitably brings to mind many copyright issues. For if the original of a sculpture may be in the public domain, that doesn’t necessarily mean that a 3D scan of the work would be as well. Or does it? In any event, as was explained to us yesterday, the project aims to utilise systems of IP sharing, such as trough Creative Commons, rather than trying to hoard the images at individual institutions. This should put us all on notice that a new wealth of digital information may soon be at our fingertips.